Celebrate Digital Learning Day, Even in Early Childhood! 

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This Friday is Digital Learning Day, sponsored by the Alliance for Excellent Education. Ten years ago, no one would have conceived of such a thing. Now, folks may be asking, “Just one day!?”reading on tablet with laughing girl and mom 2

The focus is to call attention to all of the resources that are available for school-aged kids’ classroom learning, and how those can be applied to expand their learning well beyond what might go on in the classrooms.

Now, the primary goal of K-12 education is to create well-read, well-informed and life-long learners. Given the prolific digital learning tools for children, it was a solid idea to designate this day to focus upon those tools and the powerful ways in which they can be used.

Most conversations around digital learning tend to focus upon academics: skills, strategies, concepts and habits. Technology can be used to develop all of these. However, small children, experiencing the most rapid and powerful learning of their lives, are into non-academic learning. They are into learning about life!  Exploration and analysis and interaction and discovery. They are developing expertise in directly experiencing scientific principles, and trial and error analyses by manipulating actual things. That’s a big order for digital technology.

The Unite for Literacy Library is focused upon this population—small children, from birth to age 8 years. It may be hard for some to envision a toddler engaged in digital learning, but that is only if you conceive of a toddler alone with a tablet or a smartphone. That should be a rarity. Technology for little ones serves best as a conversation starter.

There’s one thing that small ones are working on, harder than anything else. LANGUAGE. That’s the one tool they will use in virtually everything they do as they grow. And the best tools for language development are: 1) captivating picture books in their laps and 2) joyful conversation with their families. The long range value of this combination of resources is unmatched.

dad and boy in tentLong before children are school age, they are involved in learning, all-day-long learning. Go-until-you-fall-asleep-in-your-soup learning. Children at this age are perpetual learning machines. This is the time that the brain’s structure is established, and language blossoms and develops. If children are read to, if they are engaged in animated serve and return discussions about what they are reading with dad or grandma or sis, the result will be mastery of the most powerful tool ever conceived—language. Whether the language is oral, written or signed, this medium for sharing ideas among loved ones, working out understandings between friends and foes, and analyzing experiences with playmates will yield benefits for their entire lives.

So, where does digital learning come in for babies? In the case of young children, digital learning is collaborative, with adults or older siblings and the child. Technology offers families picture books to read and discuss together. Digital libraries like ours carry picture book abundance to the farthest reaches of the Internet and the broadest extent of mobile networks. Digital books, which may be the only free books, or those to which many families have access,  serve as tools for language development, tools for learning to problem solve, tools for enjoyment, tools for reflection and, above all, tools for fostering communication.

So, Happy Digital Learning Day, you babies and toddlers and preschoolers and Kindergartners and, of course, you families! By the time these littles graduate from high school, they will probably be leading the celebration of Digital Learning Month!